- Posted on 14th May 2012 by Nicola Holden
Last week I was treated to a belated birthday present – a visit to the Damien Hirst exhibition on currently at the Tate Modern, London.
Since Damien Hirst first came to public attention in 1988 there have been many opinions on his work, and whether or not it can be considered to be ‘art’. So, I was keen to explore my feelings on this question, and what better way than seeing some of his most iconic works close up and first hand!
In the early days Hirst was quoted saying, with regards to his art, “I wanted to be stopped and no one stopped me. I wanted to find out where the boundaries were. So I’ve found that there aren’t any.” Which, I guess, explains a lot about his work.
The exhibition starts with Hirst’s early work, including several of his most recognisable series of Spot Paintings. The comment I often hear about these paintings is ‘I could do that myself’. Well, the fact is that Hirst did, and with incredible attention to detail – every spot is a different colour, of a uniform size and arranged within a precise grid structure on the white canvas!
Next came the Medicine Cabinets, a series of cabinets filled with neatly arranged pharmaceutical packaging. Each cabinet contains medicines corresponding to different conditions and ailments, and thereby to particular parts of the body. A clever concept, but ‘art’ …? His facsimile pills, however, laid out on shelves in cabinets, are very clever indeed.
I did like his works Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction for the Purpose of Understanding 1991 – fish specimens preserved in their own individual cases and arranged on shelves so that they appeared to be floating within the cabinet and swimming in formation. But, A Thousand Years 1990, with a severed cows head in a large Perspex box being fed on by flies – no thank you!
I was impressed with his infamous shark, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living 1991, for the sheer mechanics and scale of this work. The piece is almost 5.5m long and just over 2m tall!! Oh, and I am a keen scuba diver with a morbid fascination of sharks!
Then came a lot of works with cigarette butts and ashtrays, which had me hurrying past, except for the In and Out of Love 1991 installation, which is where I found some of Hirst’s work that I loved! Ignoring the ashtrays full of cigarette butts, his brightly coloured monochrome canvases with dead butterflies adhered to their surfaces were beautiful! As was the next room which was filled with live butterflies fluttering around.
Whether or not you like Hirst’s Spin Paintings, it’s the mechanical process of creating these works that really impressed me. Hirst’s work here doesn’t just involve an easel, a canvas and a paint brush, but getting 3.5m circular canvases mounted on a turntable and spinning in order for him to create these pieces.
My absolute favourite room in the exhibition, and where I did totally get blown away by Hirst’s pieces, was with his Butterfly Paintings. Here Hirst uses the wings of thousands of butterflies to create his works which are described in the Guardian as ‘…distressing but weirdly uplifting’. A sentiment I have to agree with. The two works here that took my breath away were I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds 2006, which is a kaleidoscopic mandala-like piece, and Doorways to the Kingdom of Heaven 2007, where the butterflies are arranged into complex patterns reminiscent of medieval stained glass church windows. Wow!!
The exhibition ended with the work The Incomplete Truth 2006, a dove suspended in formaldehyde, as if in mid-flight. Looking closely, small bubbles had accumulated on the doves wings, adding a wonderful, lacy, ethereal feel to this piece.
So, having seen some of Hirst’s work, I can’t say that I like it all, but the bits that I do like, I absolutely love. However, all of Hirst’s work reflects some sort of ‘scientific’ element in its creation, and that I do admire. And so I would encourage everyone, whatever you think of Hirst and his works, to take a look at this exhibition as it is well worth it, and you may even be surprised!!
Oh, and by the way, he has created wallpapers of some of this works too, including Hope butterfly wallpaper, which I absolutely love too!
What do you think of Hirst’s works?
“A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.”
All images © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd